ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 3, 2002
By Steve Newton
Buddy Guy spent a good portion of his concert at the Commodore last Friday (September 27) paying tribute to the legends of the blues, performing in the various styles of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It was the same kind of approach the 66-year-old guitar hero took when he played the Orpheum last year—and I wasn’t crazy about it then, either. Not that I’ve got anything against notable tunes like Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom”, Cream’s “Strange Brew”, or Vaughan’s “Cold Shot”, but when I go to hear Buddy Guy, I want to hear Buddy Guy. The guy is such a ferocious talent on his own that he hardly needs to be paying tribute to anyone but himself.
Things started off just fine. Brandishing his favourite guitar—a black Strat with white polka dots—the Chicago stringbender burned up the frets in a version of the blues standard “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, then delivered an impassioned “Five Long Years”, the old Eddie Boyd R&B hit Guy first recorded in 1969. But after an ultra-soulful rendering of the John Hiatt–penned “Feels Like Rain”, the show started to take on its unfortunate Vegas-style tone.
“Now here’s Muddy Waters,” Guy announced. “Listen closely, ’cause you’re not gonna get it on the radio unless Storman Norman plays it.” Clearly the guitarist was trying to enlighten the crowd a bit—and toss in a plug for his long-time pal, local radio-show host Storman Norm Casler—but surely blues aficionados who’d shelled out 60 bucks for Buddy Guy tickets were already up on “Hoochie Coochie Man”. I’d much rather have heard him blazing away on one of his own trademark tunes—maybe “My Time After Awhile”, or “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, or “Mustang Sally”.
And why wasn’t there more material from Guy’s latest CD, the superb Sweet Tea, in which he turns his incendiary guitar loose on the hypnotic blues style of the north Mississippi hill country? Instead we got an overextended jam on the opening riff of SRV’s “Cold Shot”, while the accommodating axeman signed autographs for the devotees up front. Surprisingly, after that show of solidarity with his fans, Guy didn’t even return for an encore.
While the night’s headliner did not live up to expectations, the opening set by 23-year-old blues belter Shemekia Copeland made up for it. The booming-voiced daughter of late Texas guitar great Johnny Copeland got the place hopping big time with tunes from her new, Dr. John–produced disc, Talking to Strangers. By the end of her set, Copeland had ditched the microphone and was blowing the crowd away with nothing but the unamplified sound of her rafter-rattling pipes.